Brother of Schiavo still upset over death - He says the courts and her husband mishandled case
October 13, 2005
Deseret Morning News
By Jennifer Toomer-Cook
Bobby Schindler says his memory is seared with images of his sister, Terri Schiavo, after courts approved removal of her feeding tube in a high-profile right-to-die/right-to-life battle he says wasn't always fairly portrayed in the media.
"Fresh in my mind now is how they tortured her to death, how terrified she looked prior to her death. . . . That will be an image that stays with me and my family the rest of our lives," Schindler said in an interview. "She was beautiful, she was alive, she was a human being and had a family willing to . . . show her compassion as every human being deserves. But the courts decided she would be better off dead."
About six months have passed since Schiavo died. And Schindler is on an international speaking tour of sorts, criticizing the right-to-die movement and, through the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation, pushing for changes in federal and state laws to protect the lives of the elderly and people with disabilities.
He addressed about 150 people at Westminster College Wednesday night and spoke with the Deseret Morning News beforehand. Student leaders had invited him after learning he had spoken to another university, free of charge. His Salt Lake speech also included no honorarium, he said.
"I think society . . . has been confused over what compassion is. We're here to love and take care of these people and not kill them," Schindler said in an interview. "Everything's been flip-flopped here. What's right is wrong, what's wrong is right. And anything I can do to shed light on what's happening, God willing, I'm going to try and do.
"She would be doing the same thing for me today."
Terri Schiavo collapsed in the wee morning hours on Feb. 26, 1990. Oxygen deprivation before paramedics resuscitated the 26-year-old resulted in severe brain damage.
A couple years later, Michael Schiavo prevailed in a medical malpractice lawsuit, resulting in a more than $1 million judgment. But a feud ensued between him and Terri Schiavo's family in 1993, Schindler said, after the family questioned when the money would be spent on Terri Schiavo's promised rehabilitation and therapy. It deepened when Michael Schiavo had children with a live-in girlfriend in the mid-1990s, Schindler said.
In 1998, Michael Schiavo petitioned a Florida state court to remove life support, which in this case was a feeding tube.
The judge sided with doctors' testimony that Terri Schiavo was in a "persistent vegetative state" incapable of thought or emotion and Michael Schiavo's testimony that his wife had said on several occasions she would not have wanted life-prolonging measures.
The Schindler family disagreed, saying Terri Schiavo was a practicing Catholic who loved animals and revered life. They disagreed with the doctors' prognosis and attempted to take guardianship rights away from Michael Schiavo.
The dispute ignited a national debate over the right to die - and live. It involved public actions on both sides of the issue, acts of the Florida Legislature and governor and Congress in allowing federal courts to ensure Terri Schiavo's due process rights had been protected, and, upon her death, a statement from the Vatican and discussion over living wills.
"Mr. Schiavo's overriding concern here was to provide for Terri a peaceful death with dignity," Michael Schiavo's lawyer, George Felos, said in a news conference after the woman's death. "This death was not for the siblings, and not for the spouse and not for the parents. This was for Terri."
But Schindler believes the public was not fully informed about his sister's case due to what one critic called "journalistic malpractice."
The media "constantly referred to my sister as vegetative . . . as brain dead" when he says an autopsy did not confirm such, and that a doctor had said Terri Schiavo could have been in a minimally conscious state.
"The press I think went out of the way . . . to justify the killing of my sister by her autopsy report." The autopsy report also said Terri Schiavo showed no signs of suffering from bulimia, or of a heart attack, Schindler said. It concluded the reason for her collapse was unknown.
"Yet that was rarely, if ever, reported," he said.
Schindler believes that media reports shape public discussion.
Public discussion has shifted from one about sanctity of life to quality of life, Schindler said.
He questions the need for the diagnosis "persistent vegetative state," which he says is a subjectively assigned "death sentence" that has no purpose "except devaluing a person's life . . . and making it easier to kill." He likens such prognoses and actions thereafter to years leading up to the Holocaust.
He's worried about the rush to create living wills without careful thought to temporary life support, that prognoses might be wrong.
Schindler said he did not think Terri Schiavo would have fully recovered. But the family at least wanted to try rehabilitation.
"We loved her. She was beautiful. She was sacred to us and sacred in the eyes of God. All we wanted to do is bring her home and care for her."